Wine Review: White Australia

19 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Sometimes your moneymaker becomes your millstone.  Australia, which had been making wine for a couple centuries without raising much of a global fuss about it, burst onto international liquor store shelf traffic jam within the past two or three decades thanks to a flamboyant, fruity, brash, ripe style of Shiraz, buttressed by a New World-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that was easy on the pocketbook.  A mammoth export industry emerged, but typecasting of Australian wine as a whole inevitably followed, leaving those longstanding producers with histories older than the Dominion of Canada stuck in their own misleading shadow.


Now the Shiraz spotlight has pulled back a bit, giving everyone a bit of room to breathe and again find comfort in the space of their own natural identities; for longstanding affiliates Pewsey Vale and Yalumba, this has meant a continued push to enhance the white side of Australia’s wine spectrum, and perhaps the sowing of a few carefully nurtured seeds which might ultimately settle the debate of what should be known as Australia’s signature white grape.  Two deserving contestants, from two benchmark wineries, lie below. Read the rest of this entry »


Wine Review: 2010 Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino

19 09 2011

When drinking on a budget, many people go for cheap wine.  Me, I opt for sheep wine.


You are forgiven for thinking that Pecorino is only a sheep’s milk cheese, because I was convinced of the same thing until I was presented with an opportunity to buy this neon green, livestock-labelled bottle.  For the first and possibly last time in my life, the back label of a wine I owned proudly trumpeted that it was made from “the grape of the sheeps” (bad grammar not mine) — the word “Pecorino” comes from the Italian “pecora”, meaning “sheep”.  Apart from being delicious with crackers on an appetizer platter, Pecorino is also a little-known white grape indigenous to the central-eastern Italian wine region of Abruzzo.  It almost became extinct over the past few decades because it is a fairly low-yielding varietal that doesn’t lend itself to big money crops (and because wineries weren’t lining up down the block to plant sheep grapes), but large-scale producer Umani Ronchi recently began a crusade to revive it in an effort to keep regional grape varieties alive, leading up to the first vintage of this Pecorino in 2007.  Thanks to the palate-broadening encouragement of Brian at The Ferocious Grape (who was also behind my foray into Malvar a couple months ago), and because I liked the cute cartoon sheep on the label, it ended up in my glass. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2010 Zestos Vinos de Madrid Blanco

20 07 2011

Malvar! You can't really see it in this picture, but the neck of the bottle says "Ole 'No Brainer' NB". Randomest neck foil ever?

Time to venture into the obscure!  Aside from being the first wine I’ve ever had out of an orange-tinted bottle, tonight’s vino is also the first wine I’ve ever had made from the Malvar grape.  Raise your hands if you’ve ever heard of “Malvar” before.  If your hand is currently resting on your lap, or if it’s up in the air but you’re lying through your teeth, you’re not alone:  even my most reference-y wine books had never heard of it.  The New Wine Lover’s Companion by Ron and Sharon Herbst is literally a dictionary of wine knowledge, but “Malvar” doesn’t show up in it.  Oz Clarke’s Grapes & Wines is a 300+ page book ONLY about the various different grape varietals, hundreds of them listed in alphabetical order, and “Malvar” is nowhere to be found.  In Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, which is a monolithic 800-page wine encyclopedia and probably the most famous wine reference book in the world, “Malvar” gets less than 30 words of attention:  “Malvar, white grape commonly grown around Madrid producing slightly rustic wines but with more body and personality than the ubiquitous Airen.”  Wow, thanks.  Basically, we’re on our own for this one. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Laughing Stock Chardonnay

11 07 2011

In case my constant compulsive pumping of Riesling didn’t already tell you this about me, I’m not much of a Chardonnay guy.  I’m not an active hater, but I can generally take it or leave it, and it’s definitely not where my eyes go on a white wine list.  I find most oak-aged Chardonnays to be a bit of a blunt instrument, tasering the taste buds into submission with a lumberyard of wood (often accompanied by crazy high alcohol) and overwhelming the sense of delicacy that I think the best white wines possess.  Conversely, I find most unoaked Chardonnays to be, well, extraordinarily boring:  Chardonnay is a fairly neutral grape by itself, without any intense flavours, and with no oak providing backup vocals it can lack the layer of intrigue that it sorely needs.  Of course, this dreary portrait doesn’t apply to all Chards out there (Burgundy fans, put down your pitchforks — I can’t afford your wines anyway), but it covers more of them than it should.

Great bottle, great marketing, great wine.

But leave it to my (now official) favourite Canadian producer to walk that difficult middle ground between extreme oakiness and mind-numbing neutrality.  Coming off the extremely strong showing of their signature red blend Portfolio back in May, the Okanagan’s Laughing Stock Vineyards kept the PnP love fest going with their 2009 Chardonnay, which struck a perfect balance.  The LS label info alone gave me high hopes, for two reasons.  First, the alcohol level was only 13.2%, not a percent and a half higher like some New World Chardonnays; since all the alcohol in wine comes from the sugars in ripe grapes, this non-astronomical alcohol level means that the grapes weren’t crazily overripe when they were fermented, which in turn means that the resulting wine likely won’t be overly full and will likely retain some much-needed acidity.  Second, instead of being aged in small oak barrels for a long period of time (usually a year or more), the LS Chardonnay was actually fermented in oak and then aged in larger oak barrels called puncheons (the bigger the barrel, the less surface area contact with the wine and the less flavour imparted) for only 5 months.  As compared to strictly aging in oak, barrel fermentation generally results in more controlled, better integrated and softer oak flavours being imparted into the wine, all good things for someone easing their way into oaky whites.  This is why more information on wine labels is always better than less! Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2010 Jorge Ordonez Botani Moscatel Seco

6 07 2011

Summer is finally, briefly here -- I have just the wine.

It’s wines like this that make a good local wine shop (or a friendly neighbourhood blog) so important.  Apart from an atypically stylish label, this wine has nothing going for it that would normally make you pick it up off the shelf:  it’s not bargain-basement cheap (usual retail is $25ish), it comes from a completely obscure region (Sierras de Malaga) in a country (Spain) that is not at all known for its white wines, and it’s made from a grape (Moscatel Seco, otherwise known as dry Muscat) that doesn’t exactly have Chardonnay-esque market appeal.  Why have a $25 Muscat from southern Spain when you can stick to Wolf Blass and Kim Crawford and avoid risking that kind of cash on the unknown?  Because it’s freaking awesome, that’s why.  Thanks to a good wine store initially talking me into taking the plunge, I’ve now tracked down Botani in three successive new vintages, possibly the longest streak in my brief wine-collecting career, and if I can encourage some of you to be similarly adventurous then this blog will be worth its while. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2004 Rabl Kaferberg Gruner Veltliner

14 06 2011

Before we get to tonight’s wine, I should pass on that today was a red-letter day for PnP, as we got some unsolicited (but very welcome) press from one of Calgary’s top local websites,  Check out the article here — it’s truly exciting to be mentioned alongside some pretty damn talented Calgarians.  Calgary Is Awesome is awesome!

Possibly the tallest bottle of wine I've ever seen. It didn't even fit in the frame!

Now, raise your hands if you’ve ever had an aged Gruner Veltliner.  If you haven’t, I’m now telling you that you owe it to yourself to try.  Gruner, as discussed in more detail in this prior post, is Austria’s signature grape, a white with a unique flavour profile that is now receiving much more mainstream attention, and for good reason.  Like many other older wines I’ve purchased recently, I got this 2004 Rabl from Aspen Wine & Spirits, which routinely puts back-vintage wine (obtained in a fire-sale purchase of the inventory of a now-defunct Calgary boutique shop awhile back) out for sale at fantastic prices.  This bottle, from a strong, well-known producer, hasn’t been on the market for 5+ years (the current vintage of this Gruner is the 2009), but was on the shelf for $22.  Crazy.  I don’t go to Aspen W&S a lot, but when I do, it’s to hunt out backdated bargains like this. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2006 Brundlmayer Langenloiser Berg-Vogelsang Gruner Veltliner

11 04 2011

GruVee name, groovy wine.

Time for a departure here on PnP:  a white wine that isn’t a Riesling.  Don’t adjust your set, because we haven’t gone that far afield from Germany, Riesling’s ancestral home; we’ve just moved slightly southeast into Austria to look at a prime example of that country’s national grape, Gruner Veltliner.  If you’ve never heard of this varietal before, take note:  not only does it have the coolest grape name in the entire world (“Gruner Veltliner” sounds like a luxury airline) with the best nickname (GruVee — no, I didn’t make that up), but it also has a wild and wacky flavour profile that will leave you (and tonight left me) scrambling for adjectives trying to define it.  It makes tremendously interesting and unique wine that isn’t as delicate as some whites and that drinks well alone or with food, and it’s my suggestion if you’re looking to colour a little out of the lines of the Cabernet/Chardonnay book.  Since Austria isn’t as well-established a wine region as France, Italy, Spain, etc., you can find some great, complex Gruners at excellent prices, like this one, a single-vineyard GV from arguably the best producer of the grape in the country, which I got at Highlander in Marda Loop for under $30. Read the rest of this entry »

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